April 13, 2019

Chapter 02 - Hey, are you a Cannata?

     I come from a large family. And I do mean large. How big is my family? To be honest, at the still somewhat young age of sixty seven, if I include nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, cousins and in-laws, I still have no greaking idea..

     It wasn't until about the age of thirteen that I finally had an official count on the number of brothers and sisters I had. And I’m still a bit suspicious of that figure. My family was so enormous and spanned decades that the oldest had left home before the youngest was born. There were so many people in my house at any given time that, between the siblings, the cousins and the friends there were just too many faces and names to remember.

     Some of my brothers and sisters I knew firsthand, others were only legends I heard about from my sister, Rose, the family historian. All told I have fourteen brothers and sisters that I have met personally. Counting a legendary brother I never got to meet there are fifteen siblings in all counting me. I think.

     My favorite sister, Rose, was my primary source of all Cannata news and knowledge. She was older and well connected with the Cannata in-crowd. I can remember often when I saw someone unfamiliar walking through the house. I would nudge my sister Rose and ask quietly, "Is that one of my brothers?" She would then fill me in on all the important details. I just assumed, if it was a family member, I didn't know them yet because they lived somewhere in the house other than my room.

     I was pretty certain that,depending on the sleeping arrangements that were in effect, anyone who shared my bedroom was either my brother or sister. Everyone older than my sister Rose was too old for me to hang out with so it took awhile to get to know some of my eight older siblings. But, starting the day I was born I got to break in a whole herd of new brothers that my mom brought home after me. Where she got them and why was a mystery that took a long time to solve.

     My mother. like lots of mothers in the 1950's and 60's loved collecting Green Stamps. They would look through the catalog and redeem them for all kinds of things. Since my mom brought home babies a lot I assumed babies were something that my mother got at the Green Stamp Redemption Store. 

     I never knew when my mom was pregnant because I had no idea what a pregnant woman looked like. My mother was in a state of perpetual pregnancy and thus always looked the same to me. I had no clue that the big belly was the sign. I thought that was just how she was shaped. She just had a big belly. I never even suspected that all the while, as I thought she was saving stamps to go get a new brother, the next new brother was hiding in there!

     New babies appeared at my house on a regular basis. Almost like clockwork. Like a fifth season. There was winter, spring, summer, fall and baby season. When the leaves turned color and started to fall, babies fell down with them. 

     So many showed up in September, right around my birthday, that I thought they were some sort of bizarre birthday gift. Not one I wanted in particular but one that my mother seemed so good at producing that I didn't have the heart to tell her I would rather have a bike or something else I could play with

     She brought home five more brothers after I was born… six if you count my oldest brother, Joe. It was when my sister Rose explained how my brother, Joe could be so old for a baby that, in fact, he wasn't a baby at all… that I began to put things together.

     I still remember the day I first saw my brother Joe. I was almost five and still somewhat clueless. He had been away in the service and had left before I became aware that all these creatures prowling around outside the bars of my crib and playpen were actually my family. The bars that I thought were there to prevent them from getting to me were really there to keep me away from them. Thus I had never met Joe in my early days.

     So when I first saw him standing in the living room all dressed in a soldiers uniform, as usual, I had no idea who he was. So I checked with the best authority I had.

     When my sister Rose whispered, "Yes, that's one of your brothers," I was absolutely stupefied! Until then all the new brothers my mother had bought home from the Green Stamp Store before were all babies. Somehow my mother had bought a baby that was a full grown soldier.

     At first, I figured it must have taken a long time to save enough Green Stamps for Joe. He must have been an expensive baby because he was already full grown. To me he was the last baby my mother brought home. It took a while to figure out that what I thought was the last bought was in fact the first born. If not for Rose I might never have figured it out.

     While I had problems keeping the siblings names straight I learned to recognize my mother and father early on. I know my mom knew who I was and knew my name too because she was always using it while telling me where to go or what to do. Most often using it while issuing the general command of "Go out somewhere!" She was always calling my name and she almost always got it right.

     My father was a different story. He never seemed sure of the name or identity of the kid he was addressing at any given time. I'm pretty sure that, although I knew him well enough, my father wasn't sure of my name or who I was until my early teens. Most often when he was talking to me he would start with about six syllables that weren't in my name.

     "Jo… Nic… ah, Jim, Fra…Michael! Yes. You, shut up! I'm watching the news." When a name just wouldn't come to him quick enough he would just yell to my mother. "Elsie, tell that one to quiet down!"

     Eventually my dad did learn my name and I met all my brothers and sisters. And while I learned who my family members were, in turn, as I grew, I learned who I was. I learned that, 37 Forbes St, was not an entire community in and of itself, but that it was a single house that was part of a much bigger world.

     More importantly, as I grew up, I also learned that who I was, didn't mean as much to most people as what I was. And usually, once they knew what I was, they weren't interested in knowing who I was any more.

     While I spent a lot of time asking people in my house, "Hi, are you a Cannata?", as I started to venture out into the world around 37 Forbes St, I was to discover that life out there was completely different. I was soon to learn that my older siblings had already left the family mark in the neighborhood. The die had been cast and when I was born I inherited the family legacy. And as a result I would pay for their sins.

     I was a Cannata and there was nothing I could do about it. Cannata Number 10 to be precise. While all the people in the neighborhood were strangers to me, people who I would come to know as I grew up,it seemed everyone in the neighborhood, while they didn't know who I was, sure knew what I was. I was another Cannata.

And the first time that I recall someone outside of my home that I didn't know asked me, "Hey, are you a Cannata?" and I said "Yes," curious to know if this was a brother I had somehow missed, I learned just how special a Cannata was.

But that's another story.

No comments: